For many LGBTQ individuals, the ritual of coming out continues to test the conflict between being true to one’s self and acceptance by one’s family, according to a series of coming out stories presented Wednesday night at Manny’s cafe.
“I want to be in your life and continue to develop our relationship as adults. But I can’t do this while lying to you,” said Emanuel “Manny” Yekutiel, the proprietor of Manny’s, one of two dozen LGBTQ people who gathered to share their stories at a small, informal meeting in the cafe. “I am gay, and I am your son. And I love you.”
This was what Yekutiel told his Afghan Jewish father 12 years ago. Yekutiel put off that reckoning until he had finished college and found economic independence. It marked the last time father and son spoke.
“I think in 2022, and in San Francisco, we often think that it’s all easy for a lot of people,” said Yekutiel. “But I am a living example of someone who says it’s not always like that for everyone.”
It was clear on Wednesday night that Yekutiel was not alone, but the 20 or so participants offered a range of stories. It is one of many events being held around the city in the lead-up to Pride weekend on June 25 and 26. You can see all the events here.
Kelsey, 34, described growing up in a conservative, evangelical Christian family where queerness was never on the table.
At 29 and in her second marriage, she finally acknowledged her gay identity to herself and her husband. “Immediately, he said, ‘One, I feel like I finally met the full Kelsey. And two, I’m jealous as a straight man’,” said Kelsey.
Still, Kelsey was unable to come out to her family and extended community. She felt, she said, that she “didn’t deserve to have a voice or share my story.”
Those at Manny’s who were older talked about the experience as more charged and difficult. The coming out stories from the younger participants were lighter, sometimes bittersweet.
Erika Michelle, who moved from Beijing to Los Angeles for high school, said it took six years to come out after her first gay experience at 14.
“All the statistics say all these terrible things about LGBTQ people, but those don’t capture the amount of love and joy that our community experiences,” she said. “I honestly feel bad for straight people.”
One young guest attended the event for exactly that reason: Community. “I’ve been here for a month in the city. I don’t know anybody here,” she said, sobbing as she spoke. “I feel like I chose this day for a reason. You guys are the first to know that I’m gay.”
Michael D., 20-something, talked about coming out to his grandma, a sweet and friendly lady, he said. She was kind and open, but she was also experiencing dementia. “So I had to come out to her multiple times,” he said.
An older man in a green jacket who described himself as a “gay Jew” recalled being in a gay bar for the first time on Memorial Day in 1985. “Even though it was New York, it was still the ’80s. There was somewhat of a stigma around HIV and around the whole image of the gay world,” he said.
Harry Breaux, 77, talked about his parents sending him to military school for six years to repress his sexuality. “Growing up in the ’50s and early ’60s, it’s still illegal. It’s still a horror story. The only thing my parents could see for me as a future was prison and perversion,” he said.
Breaux also discovered the truth about himself after mustering up the courage to go to a gay bar. After graduating with a degree in theatre, he called his mom one day in 1969 and came out. “You know, all those things you hear about artists and actors, they’re probably true about me,” Breaux said to his mother over a telephone call. “She just kind of glossed over it said, ‘Oh, well, you know.’”
Yekutiel’s father, who is soon to be 80, is a member of the same generation as Breaux. In the decade since Yuketiel has come out, his relationship with his father has only taken baby steps. “After about eight or nine years, he looked at me for the first time,” said Yekutiel.
But time is running out, because his father’s health has been deteriorating. “I still have a little teeny-weeny bit of hope that, at some point before he dies, that we will be able to make amends,” he said.